Breaking Boundaries or Thank God for Repressive Gender Roles

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Thank god, Theatre Movement Bazaar has returned to the repressive sex roles of the 1950's!

Okay, you need some background to appreciate how exciting that is. Stick with me.

Theatre Movement Bazaar is one of LA's most formally daring companies blending the worlds of dance and theater. Their current piece at Theatre of Note, Hot Cat, is a riff on Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The brainchild of Tina Kronis and Richard Alger, Theatre Movement Bazaar skips across the boundaries of linear narrative and naturalistic movement into a world where idiosyncratic gesture becomes the building blocks of dance and a character's text is as likely to come from a cultural footnote or found text. The glue that keeps the work coherent and entertaining is a mixture of wicked literary intelligence and a wonderfully dry physical wit.

For the last 14 years, they've nomadically created work with Sacred Fools, 24th Street, Boston Court, CalArts and LA City College - to name just a few -- which shines a light on one of the economic realities of LA theater. The expectation would be that theater artists with a bold vision and work that requires both stylistic chops and physical dexterity would form an ensemble, a company. But small theater ticket sales in LA and the folks who fund it just don't support that ambition. So instead, Theatre Movement Bazaar has woven together an existence bouncing from artistic home to artistic home. It's a bargain that has kept the work fresh but comes with trade-offs.

Thematically, Ms. Kronis and Mr. Alger have spent the last few years in a sort self-imposed Russian exile, creating four plays based on the work of Anton Chekhov. With the exception of the Anton's Uncles, which drew on Uncle Vanya, the pieces never really gelled.

Their current production, Hot Cat, returns them to the 1950's, the fertile ground of their earlier works, Cirque Picnique and Monster of Happiness. Ms. Kronis and Mr. Alger find as much inspiration pressing against the repressive and ridiculous gender roles of the time as they do breaking the formal boundaries of the theater. They're at their best when they physically distill or explode the source text creating new and unexpected resonances. In Hot Cat, the sibling rivalry between Brick and his older brother, the transition between athletic prowess on the football field to sexual prowess providing an heir, is captured in an inspired sequence when a series of baby dolls are 'snapped' football style. The repressive southern heat is evoked by a dance of those uncomfortable gestures each of us employ to escape sweat.

The most poignant choreography is the final pas de deux between Maggie and Brick. In a piece deeply evocative of the work of choreographer Pina Bausch, Ms. Kronis captures the ballet of dependence, love and failure that bonds Williams' troubled couple. It's magical and an exciting next step for the company.

If you're a fan of the formally daring and witty - you need to see this.

Hot Cat plays at Theatre of Note in Hollywood through June 1.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 60 minutes without an intermission.

Banner image: Darret Sanders